Jared Judge was at an apple orchard with his wife when an angry wedding planner called. Judge’s string quartet, Dream City Music, was scheduled to perform at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in 10 minutes for a gig that he had forgotten to mark in his schedule. With a basket full of Honeycrisps in one hand, phone in the other, Judge attempted to wrangle musicians from afar, knowing he couldn’t make it back to the city in time, but in the end, a wedding DJ stood in, playing recorded music in place of the planned strings.
The stressful event became the catalyst for BookLive, an app Judge developed in 2019 to help fellow musicians book gigs, write contracts and communicate with clients – hopefully preventing other performers from going through a similar situation. “That kind of experience can be career-ending,” the 32-year-old says.
Before he knew anything about the performance business, Judge was a music teacher. Showing kids how to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder didn’t scratch his itch for classical music – so in 2015, he moved from New Jersey to Milwaukee, where he enrolled in a master’s program for orchestra conducting at UW-Milwaukee. Amidst his private instruction and music theory courses, there was one missing element: He had no idea how to find a job.
A few months before graduation, Judge enrolled in the UWM business school’s Student Startup Challenge, where he learned to market himself, build a website, write contracts and process payments – all the missing pieces from his music education.
After the apple-picking incident, Judge taught himself how to code and built the first version of BookLive. As the $40-a-month service works now, musicians can book gigs, schedule clients and take payments from their smartphone or computer. Clients can also access the app to communicate with their musicians, choose music and set their event schedules.
Along with creating a platform for musicians to manage their work, Judge trains artists to find that work in the first place. BookLive Academy hosts e-courses and one-on-one coaching that teaches musicians how to market themselves, build websites and partner with venues for gigs. So far, his programs have helped nearly 2,000 musicians, people like local vocalist Arron Crook. In the year Crook has used BookLive, he says he’s earned thousands of dollars through corporate gigs. And after retiring from teaching, Brookfield string musician Denice Haney worked with Judge to build a brand; she now uses the app to manage gigs with her quartet.
Recently, BookLive began a partnership with Imagine MKE, a local arts and culture nonprofit, to help the group develop a calendar platform for local artists. “Milwaukee is a place with an abundance of creative energy and artists, but it’s not always easy to build a thriving career,” says Lindsay Sheridan, Imagine MKE’s deputy director. “The kinds of solutions Jared is working on are key to building a more sustainable ecosystem for artists and creatives to survive and thrive.”
That type of empowerment is precisely Judge’s goal, whether he’s helping a local violinist build a website, adding a new feature on the app, or finding new ways to work with local arts organizations. “We’re teaching people how to fish,” Judge says. “And we’re also giving them their own rods.”